Tag Archives: mmrw

U.S. CDC opines that half of smoking is caused by movies

This is not news, but I want to make sure that a few years from now the extremists are not able to rewrite history and pretend that they never claimed this (as we predict in the Introduction to our 2010 Yearbook).  In an editorial accompanying a study by Stanton Glantz about appearances of smoking in two decades of movies, an anonymous author writing on behalf of the CDC cited as fact several statistics that basically claim that about half of all smoking initiation in the U.S. is caused by seeing smoking in movies.  (The major conclusion of the Glantz study itself was that anti-tobacco extremists have so much money that they cannot figure out what to do with it, so spent a several person-years watching movies.  Ok, that is not actually their conclusion, but it is the most interesting finding.)

So, as soon as smoking is fully eliminated from depictions by Hollywood, we should see smoking rates drop to Swedish levels.  Given this, it is difficult to understand why so much effort goes into worrying about packaging, availability, etc.  Perhaps activists who are trying to reduce gun violence, fistfights, sexual violence, dangerous driving, over-partying, ill-advised romances, and wacky revenge plots should look into this strategy.  Blame Hollywood.  (Hmm, that sound vaguely familiar.)

On a more serious note, this is a further example of doing science that is worthless due to starting with a false premise.  If one assumes that people who become dedicated smokers get no benefit from it then the search for the random series of events that led them down the path to their habit perhaps serves a purpose.  If we assume otherwise, then the whole thing comes across as just plain silly.

As for what Glantz actually concluded: “Further reduction of tobacco use depicted in popular movies could lead to less initiation of smoking among adolescents.”  Of course, there is nothing in this button-counting exercise that supports that conclusion at all.  It is a good thing for him that University of California professors cannot get fired for making claims that go beyond what is supported by their research!


– Carl V. Phillips

Misleading headlines and MMRW at a loss for ideas

First of all the misleading headline:

US Teen Smoking On The Rise Again?

And what does this headline represent? “The rate at which US high school students used cigarettes fell from 36 percent in 1997 to nearly 22 percent in 2003, but then the rate of decline slowed sharply, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.” Apparently some kind of new math turns a slow decline into a rise.

It would be instructive to run a test on what people remembered after reading this article. Suspect that the fearmongering headline would carry the day.

Keeping fear at center stage is evident in the source for the news item, the MMRW report, which despite being about a small but steady decline in teen smoking in the last few years (positive news one would think). But as witness the following passage, this is still not good news.

The impact of tobacco advertising and promotion activities on youth smoking initiation has been documented previously (8). The increase in current cigarette use among high school students during the early to mid-1990s observed in this and other surveys might have resulted from expanded tobacco company promotional efforts, including discounted prices on cigarette brands most often smoked by adolescents, depictions of tobacco use in movies, distribution of nontobacco products with company symbols (e.g., hats and T-shirts), and sponsorship of music concerts and other youth-focused events (7). Reductions in advertising, promotions, and commercial availability of tobacco products should be combined with expanded counter-advertising mass media campaigns and implemented with other well-documented and effective strategies (e.g., higher prices for tobacco products through increases in excise taxes, tobacco-free environments, programs that promote changes in social norms, and comprehensive communitywide and school-based tobacco-use prevention policies)(2–5).

We see that the previous short rise in teenage smoking in the mid90s was interpreted to be due to tobacco advertising and commercial availability. Let’s say that’s true. Since then there has been a steady erosion of tobacco advertising and availability not to mention massive price increases, greater surveillance of shops and millions of dollars poured into public service messages about why smoking is bad for you. Some of these things have probably contributed to the smoking rates falling but we are nearing the end of how far you can push those solutions.

Already we have seen an increase in the black market thanks to the price increases, or as in Canada, removing flavoured cigarellos from legitimate dealers. Recent Canadian studies have found that not only do youth get a sizable portion of their tobacco from the black market but that overall they get most of their tobacco not from stores but from acquaintances or family.

Of course, we all agree that we don’t want kids smoking and these declines are good news. But to use some confusing interpretation with a negative spin just to maintain the same playbook, the one that is growing the black market and also undermining any substantial harm reduction, seems like just a blatant ploy to keep money pouring into antiquated programs that are out of step with the rest of public health.

Their goal has remained making nicotine use more difficult when it should be about making it safer. But I guess that’s not where the money is.

– Paul L. Bergen